The former state epidemiologist who led Hawaii’s COVID-19 response for nine months last year before being placed on paid administrative leave is no longer employed by the state health department, a spokesperson for the department said Friday.

Dr. Sarah Park, who was placed on paid administrative leave for four months, had worked at the Department of Health for more than 16 years.

Park and former department director Bruce Anderson, who retired in September, were the subjects of considerable public criticism for their handling of the department’s COVID-19 contact tracing and testing efforts last year.

Department of Health Edpidemiologist Sarah Park gestures during press conference on spike of 41 positive cases of COVID-19.
Former state Department of Health Epidemiologist Sarah Park was one of Hawaii’s COVID-19 response leaders until taking a leave of absence in September. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Much of the criticism from lawmakers and health professionals focused on the department’s lack of transparency and failure to increase staffing to quickly track down and isolate people confirmed to be infected or exposed to the COVID-19 virus prior to the state’s August surge in cases.

Park’s last day with the department was Dec. 31, according to DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Dr. Sarah Kemble will continue to serve as acting state epidemiologist and lead the Department of Health’s Disease Outbreak Control Division while the department conducts a search to fill the position on a permanent basis, according to a written statement from Okubo.

Okubo would not answer any further questions about Park’s employment or the circumstances that led to her departure.

Park, who is also a pediatric infectious disease doctor, is no longer active as an assistant professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, according to spokeswoman Paula Bender.

A call to Park’s office at Kapiolani Medical Center was automatically routed to the Department of Health disease reporting line.

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